Letter | Jumping out of a plane?

open letter newport ri

Editor,

Would we parachute out of a plane without understanding what’s waiting for us on the ground? Of course not, but that’s what the Newport “VOTE YES” school bond proponents want. 

For example, do you know that Alliance for Livable Newport says that there’s a 10.76% property tax hike waiting for us, part of which is the school bond?  Bond promoters want us to jump quickly to catch state cash incentives in the middle of a pandemic, one that is already shredding local budgets. They want us to jump quickly and dismiss the high school unification sentiments now visible across Middletown. 

Obviously, there’s plenty that the “Approve Question 2″ advocates don’t want us to think about before jumping. Witness their unwillingness to discuss how the $18 million bond in the new Thompson Middle School didn’t deliver academic results. Witness their reluctance to discuss how our $30 Million bond for Pell Elementary has done little to close the district’s shameful  achievement gaps. Witness how quickly and quietly the initial $153 Million proposed new Rogers HS plan (sculpted after months of detailed teacher, parent, and community inputs) was put on a starvation diet and stripped down to $98 Million.  In that process they axed 84,000 sq. ft. of significant educational “meat and bone” in their hurried budget cutting drill. Finally, witness how they send the alarm that Rogers is in dire need of repair but haven’t told us anything about what those urgent repair costs will be before the new school is ready many years from now.

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The pro-bond group continues working with their upstate special interests, publishing glossy mailers that tug at our emotions, imploring us to “Buy now” – a ploy we’d expect from a car dealer. We hear this group telling voters to “go ahead, borrow now since your current loan will be paid off shortly” and “we’re dealing like never before.” This is an ultra-serious purchase with 50 year, irrevocable consequences – the largest in Newport history.

So what’s so hard in waiting for the election results to survey a new Newport-Middletown political landscape? What is so unreasonable in waiting to see if a better 50-year high school location and financing package can be shaped by progressive, “can-do” negotiators and presented at a 2021 special election?  After all, the current Wickham Road redux plan can remain on the table — pretty much intact — for many more months. The shovels don’t have to be in the ground for another 25 months.  Waiting two weeks may well prove to be one of the best investments we ever make in Newport’s and Middletown’s kids’ future success – and for taxpayers in both communities.

Mike Cullen

Candidate, Newport School Committee